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CA Citizens Redistricting Commission: From Bad to Worse

April 20, 2010

In 2008, Californians passed Proposition 11, a measure which took the responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the State Legislature and gave it to a to-be-created Citizens Redistricting Commission. I learned about it more recently when the request for applications was put out by the State Auditor, who is charged with creating the commission. The proposition was originally supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, and opposed by Democrats from the beginning.

Since putting out its request for applications, the State Auditor’s office has run into greater and greater trouble in the process of creating the panel. The initial applications were less than anticipated and tilted white and male. A recently-concluded second round of applications by accepted candidates requiring essay questions and letters of recommendations was the same but more so. Out of about 38 million Californians, 5,000 submitted the follow-up applications. [Note: I applied myself but was deemed ineligible because of political donations by family members. Meh.]

I’ve been pulling for the Commission for since I first learned of it and regarded the Democrats’ opposition to it as crass political maneuvering. As the prominent California political scientist Eric McGhee outlined in this op-ed, redistricting reform won’t cure all of California’s ills, including political polarization. Still, it just seems right that the political playing field, which the lines of districts represent, should be drawn by a nonpartisan committee.

However, reading KQED’s John Myers account of the Commission’s troubles, I came across a detail previously unknown to me:

The constitutional amendment says that at each stage — from the pool of 120 to 60 to the actual 14 serving members — the number of Democrats, Republicans, and “others” will be exactly equal. Trouble is, that gives the GOP a larger number of redistricting voices than they have among registered voters, where Dems (44.6%) have opened up an almost 14-point gap with Republicans (30.8%).

I suppose that I had never thought this through: the members of the Commission could never be both nonpartisan and representative. The current procedure simply isn’t just. Considering that the Commission’s task is inherently political, an accurate political representation of California’s population is perhaps more important than any other factor. My belief was that taking redistricting away from politicians with personal interests in redrawing the lines to their own advantage would improve the process. I did not realize that the Commission would ultimately give more power to Republican Party members than is rightfully theirs.

A campaign to place an initiative on the November ballot that would repeal Prop. 11 and dissolve the Commission is underway, lead by Speaker Pelosi among others. While I’d prefer amending the Commission to allow it to be truly representative of California’s population, I’ll be supporting that effort now.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Theodore Cha permalink
    May 29, 2010 8:35 pm

    I agree with you that the current commission selection process gives unfair advantage to GOP who are actually losing this Blue state. Proposition 11 was their last ditch effort to hang on to their power. I do not see that giving equal numbers of commissioners to GOP and Democrats are really fair representation of ‘Great People’ of CA. the situation is same for ethnic minorities in CA. (wait, all of us are minority, including non-Hispanic whites, right?! How they make up more than 70% of applicants currently). I can only see another attempts to hang on to the power. However, CA demographic change cannot be tilted other way now, even artificially! I am still on the pool of applicants at this time despite voting against the Prop 11 in 2008 due to above reasons. I, for one, will be closely monitoring and participating in this interesting procedures.

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